When biologist Karel Ten Kate heard rumors of a talking duck in Australia, he shrugged it off like a comical anecdote, like any sane human being. But his curiosity caught up with him, so he tracked down a respected Australian scientist who first noticed this phenomenon more than three decades ago. After listening to verified footage showing an adult musk duck making the sounds of a door slamming or creaking, a foal snoring, a man coughing, and even all the familiar insults “You bloody idiot!”, the Dutch biologist was simply surprised. listen for yourself
Karel Ten Kate’s encounter with this articulated duck leads him down a rabbit hole where he finds more evidence that the musk duck (Beziora lobata) can imitate sounds from nature, as well as those made by humans.
This extraordinary ability is documented in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London bOn the mammal front, musk ducks are officially allowed to join an exclusive club of animals capable of acquiring speech through learning, which includes parrots, hummingbirds and some songbirds, as well as some whales, seals, dolphins and bats.
“These sounds have been described before, but have never been analyzed in any detail, and have so far gone unnoticed by vocal learning researchers,” said Tin Kate, professor of animal behavior at Leiden University, in his study. Its co-author is Australian scientist Peter J.
Almost all mammals produce some vocal sound, ranging from the barking and howling of dogs to the sound of cattle. Humans differ a lot in their ability to put together sounds that have certain meanings, which we call words, allowing us to communicate with each other through language. But at the same time, while most mammals are born with innate speech abilities, humans are not.
We all need to learn how to talk and the brain processes that support this kind of learning are still not well understood. This is why studies such as this one looking at learned speech in other species are important to unravel these processes.
Phonological learning refers to the imitation of sounds or the production of entirely new sounds, depending on the species involved. Auditory feedback during development appears to be the center of this ability.
Most species have a more innate ability to learn how to make sounds. But some rare animals, including a handful of mammals and, of course, humans, learn vocally. Michael Yartsev, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement 2020 interview with Dana Foundation.
Yartsev’s previous studies on Egyptian fruit bats showed that individuals who were isolated or exposed to unique acoustic environments after birth had different vocalizations from naturally arose bat groups.
“This suggests that their vocalization has some plasticity. Our work has shown that, even in adults, if bats are exposed to a vocal disturbance, they have the ability to modify or adapt their sounds in a stable manner over long periods of time. So, there are good indications that a form of The forms of plasticity there are that we can investigate,” Yartsev said.
Musk ducks seem this way, too. Besides the musk duck that imitated the insults of his former caregiver, ten Kate identified other musk ducks that grew up alongside Pacific black ducks (Anas Superkiloza), and thus imposter like them. Both ducks were bred in captivity since they were young. Wild musk ducks sound quite different and aren’t interested in acquiring new sounds in their vocal range, which also explains why their vocalization abilities have been overlooked until now – they seem to make horrible pets.
Furthermore, not all captive musk ducks seem to imitate non-native sounds. Captive female musk ducks do not perform vocal shows, and mimicry by males has been part of her advertising presentations to potential mates.
“Together with previous observations of inter-population vocal differences and skewed sounds in captive-bred individuals, these observations show advanced vocal learning at a level similar to that of songbirds and parrots. We discuss breeding conditions that may have led to imitation and suggest that the structure of duck vocalizations indicates sophisticated control. and highly flexible in the mechanism of vocal production,” the scientists wrote in their new study.
Ducks separate from the evolutionary family tree before other birds, such as parrots and songbirds. What’s more, duck brains are much different in structure from their avian relatives. Therefore, the researchers conclude, “The observations support the hypothesis that vocal learning in birds evolved in several groups independently rather than all at once with many losses.”